Yesterday I had the remarkable experience of climbing the clock tower of British Parliament, affectionately known as Big Ben- all 334 steps to the top. I touched the clock faces on the inside of this world famous monument and then went up to watch Big Ben (actually the name of the bell rather than the tower) strike 12 - midday. It was so much fun and we were the last group to be able to do so in the year 2009. At the very top, where the bell is, you can see out across London itself and watching it from up there I felt a great affection for my city. Watching little read buses, the Thames and the London Eye on this cold Tuesday before Christmas everything seemed so pristine and perfect; so free of imperfection and chaos. There was so much life and hope, an aura of it from the silent height of the tower that has given London its rhythm and time for 150 years. There was a security in standing somewhere that survived four separate bombs during the war and came out chiming.
Yet, things are not always as they appear. I am sad for the character of my country because Big Ben may still be chiming out, peoples' hearts may still be filled with good and much that is positive has changed here since that first chime 150 years ago, I want to say that first because it is important to remember. Yet our moral compass in this nation has certainly not proved to be as resilient as our iconic clock, this year alone has seen Christians and the pro-life cause battered further as bills were passed in the building I was standing directly above at that moment in time. In fact the building the tower is connected to is, obviously, the building where all anti life bills have been triumphantly passed. As a mortal being man finds himself caught by time and the era in which we are living is one that does not want to recognise its own mortality or look back to that time 2000 years ago when all humanity, regardless of time, was marked to receive its greatest gift. The gift that we await now in these last days of Advent. Our ego in this time of Hawking and Dawkins is often great enough to think we don't need a God.
Waiting is something that seems to have been lost in a world where we are pushed to get what we want when we want it, something I found myself back in the midst of fairly quickly after I returned to ground level and the bustling consumer streets of central London; trying to find a sign of REAL Christmas was very difficult. Trying to find that sense of order, hope and peace I experienced looking out over the same streets from the advantage of height and distance seemed impossible. Being up there was a privilege and a joy which I will not soon forget but it did make me think about looking at things, including ourselves, as we really are. Sometimes receding from the chaos, surveying the overall picture can make you appreciate how fortunate you are, the beauty and the good things which are so vital to hold on to. Yet on its own this view would blind you from the reality and truth of the ways things are when you get close to them. In its own way it was a sort of mountain experience.
It can become a sort of metaphor for the way we look at ourselves and examine our conscience.
From a distance, surveying my actions and my personal truth I may consider myself to be ticking along nicely. Yet Advent is about coming down to the ground level of our soul, getting into the midst of the streets of our being. Can I find signs of the real Christmas within myself, not the self that I want to see from a pleasant distance but the self that is real and unromanticised- the bustle of my working soul. Where is Christ's birth within me? Getting into the muddle is about seeing the plank in my own eye and coming to the crib with humility, not just the gloss of the way I think I appear. Its tough to let go of the way I think I am and confront my own actions, desires and purity of heart. Confront my own ego.
It is a simple revelation but an important one, if I am to learn anything for Advent, my final prayer for this beautiful time of waiting is that I will be able to get down to the nitty gritty of those "streets of my soul" and examine them. Can I discern what I need to work on in the coming year to stop myself getting caught up in things of little significance which will only serve to throw my own moral compass off course? I want to clear the cluttered roads of my own desires so that every little part of my soul has Christ's name firmly sign posted. I hope that the aura of hope, the life may really be thriving at the very core - not just on the surface. It is a tall order but Christmas has to be about hope, the hope that we might be worthy of the great gift of life we are asked to receive. We only have to bow our heads and accept and then perhaps we will create a life for ourselves more resilient than any clock tower, more resilient than time itself. What greater hope can there be than this?
(Thanks to Soph for organising the trip yesterday- it was amazing!)